Apparently, your handwriting says a lot about you. I first heard this when my friend sitting across from me in first period noticed how my notes began at the extreme left-margin. She summarized: “Ah, you think about the past a lot.” I flipped through my notebook and realized there was barely any space between the seam of the notebook and the beginning of my sentences. The only white space available on the page was between each word and letter. This was true for every single used line of every page. At eight in the morning, however, I quickly disagreed with her statement saying, “I don’t know if that’s true.”
It’s not that I distrusted her handwriting judgement skills, but more that I didn’t want to be someone who dwelled over the past. There was no reason to be fixated on something that has already occurred: it was over. I thought about how the past should be kept in the past in order to fully live and enjoy the present. As the day continued, I forgot about her handwriting analysis and convinced myself it was not true for me. I don’t dwell over the past. That was a lie.
That lie began to unravel that next Friday when schools announced a sudden two week stay-at-home order. It was not obvious in the moment, but our daily lives, schedules and practices would forever be changed. Life stood at a standstill. Favorite storefronts and places would close indefinitely, social interactions with people you might have seen every day at work or school would be reduced to a digital screen and traffic lights would dance red, yellow and green for no one as the streets emptied. It was as if time was frozen. While the present simply became the time between sunrise and sunset, the future — more unknown than ever — loomed over the world.
Yet, these frames of time barely crossed my mind. While my friends and family asked about what would happen with senior prom or graduation, I bid my time reminiscing about old memories. It became clear how often I thought about the past. Having stayed at home for a full week, I noticed all the pieces of the past surrounding me — random items of sentiment like a packet of butter from the Princeton University cafeteria during a visit, stacks of museum admission tickets from across the years or the dozen of journals tucked away at the bottoms of my drawers. Being at home gave me all the more time to reread these journals, flip through old photo albums, and remember all the moments tied to random artifacts. Yet, past memories were even more accessible than I thought. They were portable, and fit right into my pocket, compiled neatly on Spotify.
I typically rotate the same three songs each week until I have overplayed them to the death. It’s not the best method for musical engagement, but once I find a song I like, it becomes a soundtrack for my life at the time being. The beauty of overplaying is how a song then becomes central for defining that period of time. After I have overplayed the song, it lays to rest amid playlists organized by month and year. My Spotify holds such monthly playlists dating back to early middle school. Shuffling playlists allowed me to float backwards in time. My handwriting may have been right: this chronological organization itself is designed around the past. Not only did I think about the past more than I imagined, but I adored doing so.
Through the warmth of nostalgia, shuffling older playlists pulls me back into the beautiful memories associated with each song. Each song lets me revisit people and places I have not seen in a long time. I am sitting in my bed surrounded by a herd of empty water bottles, empty bowls that once held hummus and chips and chapters that have yet to be read, but I am transported elsewhere whenever one of these songs is playing.
When I hear “Just Friends” by Hayden James, I am back on a patio staring out at the San Franciscan sunset. As everything else darkens, hues of pink and purple outline the sky in the far distance. The evening breeze cools against my bare skin where I sit cozied up with my roommate from camp. Alongside the music, you can hear laughs, squeals and small introductions spoken by whomever decides to join us that evening. Every time I hear that song, I am brought back to the feelings of excitement and nervousness that come with summer friends and flings.
“Rehab” by Brent Faiyaz plays and I see myself waiting at the train station at dawn in December. The subtle sound of guitar strumming and fingers snapping matches my slow steps up the stairs to the train platform. I am on my way to school, already 20 minutes late. I wait in anticipation of receiving the “wya” text from my friend and by that time, it’s already second period. The song suits the rust-colored train tracks and ashy gray platform from dirty slush and grainy rock salt residue. The air is nearly frozen, moving just as slow as the tired early morning commuters. It isn’t until the train pulls into the station that the gust of air hits my face and prickles my skin, waking me up once again.
When the “Te Boté (Remix)” comes on, I am reminded of how it would be blasted in my cousin’s car on the freeway late at night. With the windows down, the hot summer air rushes into the car and intensifies the scent of fast-food fries. It’s a nasty type of hot air that sticks to your skin and hair, but that doesn’t matter as long as the remix plays. The same song transports me to the drive to my friend’s house for the weekend. The subwoofer in her car amplifies the beat until you can feel it in your heart. It drowns out any stresses we had, letting us be free in the moment. It’s our anthem before hours of carelessly laying on the beach and eating tons of cold watermelon.
“Out of My League” by Fitz and the Tantrums transports me to sitting on the rocks across the East River at noon, “It’s Up Freestyle” by Lil Keed pulls me into the school bathroom and filming TikToks between classes, and “No Idea (DJ Purpberry Chopped and Screwed” by Don Toliver reminds me of the winter air and writing college essays late into the night.
Music has been the vehicle back to all these beautiful moments, allowing me to travel without any bounds. It provides a breath of fresh air and offers me different scenes and places. While I may have rejected the notion of reflecting on the past too much at first, I realize how magical it can be. With music, I can transcend across my memories and time to see friends when I can’t right now. And more than ever, rediscovering old memories provides comfort in times of uncertainty.
MiC Columnist Zafirah Rahman can be reached at email@example.com.